Lea Sednaoui opened The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space in Karantina three years ago. Since then, she’s divided her time between outreach – in a program of art classes for kids between 7 and 15 years old – and promoting Lebanese contemporary artists.
Q: What Lebanese artists do you represent?
A: We represent a group of young and emerging Lebanese artists. We have Alfred Tarazi, Rasha Kahil, who lives in London, Hiba Kalache, who just came back to Lebanon but who spent most of her time in San Francisco. [We also represent] Carlo Keshishian and Talar Aghbashian who both also live in London and Karen Kalou.
Q: Do you have any exhibitions planned for the coming year? Which artists are involved? Are these solo shows or group shows?
A: We’re invited to Art Taipei in Taiwan in November and to Art Gwangju in South Korea in September. Since we’ve been invited, we will go to see what it’s all about.
Q: Do you find you make more sales at these fairs or at free-standing (solo and group) exhibitions?
A: We make more sales at art fairs, at least for the time being. We participated in 2010 and 2011 [in Paris’] Slick Art Fair, which focuses on new discoveries, [but were more interested in] developing contacts [than] sales. But it is another market in France. I don’t know if the emerging Lebanese art market is in huge demand.
As for Art Dubai, [which we attended for the first time in 2012], it is on another level because the visual language is more understood by the audience present at the fair. They are looking for something Arab, from the region.
Q: How do you decide which work by your Lebanese artists are worthy of international exhibition?
A: Most of the artists represented by our gallery ... have a real involvement, whether it is an internal exploration, a social or political one. I find it important to have many concepts in an artwork, to have a balance between the concept and the aesthetics of the work.
The only artist working on a political field is Alfred Tarazi. But his general domain is the one of fear, death, war, anguish, destruction or violence – much more than war in itself, but it is his starting point.
[Photographer] Rasha Kahil did a project entitled “In Your Home,” where, for three years, she used to take her clothes off at people’s places when they were not in the same room, then took [self portraits].
I have to like the artworks, the artist has to have enough maturity regarding his work. The works have to always be in tune with time. And the impact should still exist even 10 years after [it’s created]. Research is relevant too, whether in the technique, the visual aspect or the concept.
Q: Can you make any observations about what kind of art collectors are looking for nowadays? Are collectors still interested in “Arab art,” or have they become more interested in art from “Asia,” for instance?
A: Interest in Arab art is developing. Generally speaking, Lebanese buy Lebanese products, Iranians buy Iranian etc.
We are no longer in a discovery phase but more in one of development ... There is development regarding artists and their works, and this is really interesting. Especially nowadays with the Arab Spring, new [artistic] codes were created and will sound different. During the last few months, I’ve noticed – here in the gallery – that foreign artists find their place. There is a real dialogue.
Q: Do you consider your artists to be Arab/Lebanese artists first? Or as artists first?
A: Generally speaking, we are artists. I don’t like this label of being a “Lebanese artist” or an artist by nationality. But it is worth mentioning it when we are working abroad. It is a question of organization and strategy with an international clientele in order to introduce these artists.
Q: Is it possible to generalize about the characteristics “Lebanese” or “Arab” art that make it distinct from work being made elsewhere in the world nowadays?
A: I think the format is relevant. There is a true gap between modern [Lebanese] art that was developed before the Civil War and during the war. Now, we shifted quickly to contemporary art because it is the next big thing!
For local curators, it is interesting because they know the [visual] language. But for international curators, there is still some kind of exoticism in it ... When I was at ArtDubai, it was amazing to see all these galleries displaying Middle Eastern works. There are masses of calligraphy, war ... obviously there are no works on women because it’s Dubai but there are all these hints to origins, roots, belonging.
In the end, all the voices of the artists and what they have to say are condensed here ... We [Lebanese] are different from the French or the Americans. We all have different cultural codes and it is normal to gather everything in art fairs.
Q: Many galleries are only interested by the commercial aspect of art. And many gallerists are said to be indifferent to the aesthetics and practice of the artists whose work they sell. Do you agree?
A: Running a gallery is a business like any other where we have to pay rent, pay the employees and monthly electric bills. But a gallery is a motor, a messenger between an artist and the people, and between the people and the cultural institutions. It really is a means to make artists grow. In the end, a gallery is like a nest.
There is real support, whether financial, moral or intellectual. We become a family. It is easy to display artworks and sell them. It makes some people happy. But running a gallery is a true mission ... Being a gallerist consists of knowing how to play on two fields: the one of the artist, and the one of the customers. But always with the will to protect the artist who is represented. If [running a gallery] is just about selling paintings, I would rather sell bread.